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Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Messe à quatre chœurs: Carnets de voyage d’Italie / An Italian travel diary
Ensemble Correspondances/Sébastien Daucé
rec. April 2019, Église Protestante Unie du Saint-Esprit, Paris. DDD.
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902640 [79:36]

Having heard an excerpt from this recording on BBC Radio 3, I dropped everything else to download the album from eclassical. Marc-Antoine Charpentier was already one of my favourite composers, even in preference to Lully, Lalande and Rameau, and some of the best performances of his music have already emanated from Ensemble Correspondances and Sébastien Daucé. Charpentier’s music, aside from the Christmas Messe de Minuit and the Te Deum, made famous by the Willcocks coupling (Warner 9029529238, download only) is at all well represented in the catalogue. There are very few other recordings of the four-choir Mass which forms the main work here, the main rival coming on an all-Charpentier album from Ex Cathedra and Geoffrey Skidmore (Hyperion CDA67435 – review).

The Hyperion recording sets the Mass in the context of some of Charpentier’s other music; that’s very valuable, but the new Harmonia Mundi pursues an equally valid, even more enlightening, path, opening with Charpentier’s setting of the Marian antiphon Sub tuum praesidium, then moving to some of the exciting music which he encountered in Italy, carnets de voyage as the title puts it, as if he were sending musical postcards home to France, which he left in 1665. None of Charpentier’s music before his journey to Italy has survived, but Sub tuum praesidium, composed immediately after his return, gives a fair idea of his earlier style.

The Italian works included avoid the elephant in the room, Monteverdi, in favour of less well-known but important composers, and the programme culminates with Charpentier’s stunning Mass for four choirs – if anything, excelling even the Italian composers represented. Monteverdi’s Mass for four choirs (1650) has been well recorded by The Sixteen (Coro COR16160), so its omission here is justifiable, but lovers of the music of this period should have a recording of it. I’ve alluded to the Coro in the past, but we seem not to have given it a proper review, so I downloaded it in 24/96 format, with pdf booklet, from, where it’s also available on CD and in mp3, aac and alac.

I need hardly report that The Sixteen do full justice to the Mass and the other music from the 1650 collection on that album. The only reason to look elsewhere would be that you already had a very fine recording of Christmas music from Westminster Cathedral which includes all but the Kyries from this Mass (CDA67707 – review Christmas 2009), or Volume 2 of the King’s Consort’s superb series of the sacred music of Monteverdi (CDA67438 CD and download, or SACDA67438 SACD – review).

Another Coro recording of Monteverdi includes the Cavalli Magnificat (COR16142 – DL News 2016/7), one of the works on the new recording. On the other hand, the new Harmonia Mundi seems to be the only available recording of any parts of Beretta’s Missa Mirabiles elationes maris and Cazzati’s Salve caput sacrosanctum.

The Hyperion replaced an older Erato recording of the Charpentier from la Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy and Jean-Claude Malgoire (no longer available) in my affections. The Hyperion booklet informs us of the connection between the French composer and his Italian influences, in particular the Beretta Mass, which survives in an annotated copy in Charpentier’s hand, and may be the work described as a sixteen-part which he reportedly composed in Rome ‘for mariners’. It’s one thing to have the Beretta described and to be told in the Hyperion notes that although ‘the two works are very different in their handling of the choirs … Charpentier’s interest in Beretta’s score underlines his interest and immersion in the Italian polychoral Mass tradition’. Now Daucé and his team give us the opportunity to judge the similarities and differences for ourselves. I wish that they could have given us the whole Beretta Mass, but the album is already well filled and the three sections on offer give us a fair enough idea.

It’s not just for the edification that the new recording caught my attention so forcibly. I rather fancy that Charpentier out-Italians the Italian composers in this very striking work. Listen to the Gloria immediately after the equivalent section of the Monteverdi and the whole is on an even grander scale. It’s not that Daucé fields a larger team, or that the recording is more immediate – both the Coro and the Harmonia Mundi come in very good 24/96 format – simply that the music outshines even Monteverdi in splendour. Even the Credo, typically a quieter, more contemplative part of any setting, sounds exuberant. Of course, the rather large instrumental accompaniment helps in that respect, though it never overwhelms the singers.

At the risk of being controversial, after listening to this new recording and re-hearing the Hyperion, I’m left with the feeling that this four-choir Mass is one of the glories of the sacred choral repertoire, worthy to be ranked ahead of the better-known Charpentier Messe de Minuit and Te Deum and not too far below the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, the Bach b-minor Mass, the Mozart Requiem and the Janáček Glagolitic Mass. It’s the grandest of his own works and the only seventeenth-century French polychoral Mass to survive, which is all the more reason to cherish it.

Which recording to choose is a different matter. Ideally, you need the Hyperion for the other Charpentier music which it contains and the Harmonia Mundi for the illumination of his Italian influences – I won’t call them models. With Christmas in the offing as I write, the Hyperion may seem the more topical – it contains settings of the ‘O’ antiphons which mark the end of Advent – but the eclassical download of the Harmonia Mundi is offered in 24-bit for the same price as 16-bit for a limited period ($14.30). There’s very little to choose between the performances – Skidmore and his team rather lighter in tone and with smaller-scale instrumental support. While the Hyperion comes on CD or in CD-quality 16-bit only, the latter from for £8, there’s very little to choose sound-wise. Ideally, you need both.

Brian Wilson

Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Sub tuum praesidium (Antiphona sine organo ad Virginem) H.28 [2:18]
Maurizio CAZZATI (1616-1678)
Salve caput sacrosanctum (Motetti a otto voci, con il suo basso continuo, Op.52, Bologna, 1669) [2:54]
Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676)
Sonata a 12 in d minor [3:49]
Magnificat (Messa, e Salmi concertati con istromenti, imni, antifone & sonate, a due 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 e 12 voci, 1656) [16:26]
Tarquinio MERULA (1594/95-1665)
Credidi propter quod (Concertato senza intonatione, basso & doi violini) (Il terzo libro delli salmi et messa concertati a tre et a quatro con istromenti & senza, salmi et messa concertati, Op. 18, Venezia, 1652) [4:12]
Francesco BERETTA (c.1640-1694)
Missa Mirabiles elationes maris : Kyrie [7:14]
Giuseppe GIAMBERTI (ca. 1600-ca. 1663)
Similabo eum viro sapienti [2:31]
Francesco BERETTA
Missa Mirabiles elationes maris : Et incarnatus est [1:45]
Orazio BENEVOLI (1605-1672)
Missa Si Deus pro nobis : Crucifixus (1660) [1:45]
Francesco BERETTA
Missa Mirabiles elationes maris :
Sanctus [2:48]
Agnus Dei [1:46]
Messe pour les trépassés H.2: Symphonie du Kyrie [1:30]
Messe à 4 chœurs H.4 (1671?) [28:52]
Domine salvum fac regem H.285 [1:35]

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